Everything you need to know about the new Mike Patton record -- that would be the self-titled debut by Peeping Tom (Ipecac, due May 30) -- can be summed up in the following detail: he got Norah Jones to sing the word "motherfucker." She's good at it, too: Norah singing "Keep it in your pants, sucker/What makes you think you're my only lover?/The truth kinda hurts, don't it, motherfucker?" is just as fucking hot as you think it's gonna be, possibly even hotter. Like Kim Gordon hot. Maybe even Annie Hardy hot.
That's the good news. The bad news is that making Norah Jones talk dirty about sums up Patton's ambitions for Peeping Tom. For years he's been promising anther pop album, but the truth may be that he's not really capable of anything more than subverting what's left of the pop impulses he flexed in between Faith No More's funk-metal breakdowns. We don't have a lyric sheet, but we're almost sure the chorus to his duet with Bebel Gilberto, a breezy Bossa ballad, has the two of them cooing "I wish I was dead." (Uh, maybe don't quote us on that just yet: we're also trying to decipher a line on "Celebrity Death Match" that appears to go, "When you slice and dice me, it's like Will and Grace." Huh?)
What with all his avant-metal doodling, it seemed perfectly possible that Patton would go another 10 years without producing anything close to a hummable melody. But the single "Mojo" is, as the first line of his press release declares, "his most accessible work since . . . Faith No More." What made Patton a star back then, even to people who couldn't place the origin of his style, was that secretly he wanted to be a disco singer -- his mannerisms were those of a black female R&B vocalist from no later than 1977. Pop, as it is currently understood by people in rock bands, is as alien to Patton as Merzbow is to Ashlee Simpson: it simply isn't anywhere in his DNA. Patton's definition of pop, at least the one he navigates on Peeping Tom, is borrowed almost entirely from hip hop and new-jack R&B. He doesn't really have it in him to rap (full disclosure: he does give a few lines in "Mojo" the old minstrelly, extra-cornpone "Epic" cadence) so the corner he's painted into is that of a white guy who just wants to sing the hooks in R. Kelly or Justin Timberlake songs. This approach yeilds varying degrees of success: none when the interlocutor is Kool Keith ("Getaway"); a limited amount, though not enough, with Massive Attack ("Kill the DJ"). For a finale, Patton brings back metal guitars -- ensuring that if he embarks on a solo tour, the 35-year-old lunkheads in faded "We Care A Lot" t-shirts will get their 15 seconds of mosh.
Word has it that Patton already has volume 2 in the can, the problem being that volume one here is sounding a few years out of date. The record that Patton was born to make has already been made this year by someone else called Gnarls Barkley; the concept he's courting has been done better over the past few years by a group you may have heard of called Gorillaz. At one point several years ago, Peeping Tom was gonna come out on Reprise, and you hoped then that it would turn give Patton some kind of Linda Perry-like sideline in party music, the better to subsidize his antipop weirdness. As it stands, we ain't too sure Mike's still got it: the tunes, that is. The voice, it goes without saying, is inimitably amazing. A verdict, not like you need one: too little, too late.
DOWNLOAD: Peeping Tom, "Mojo (featuring Rahzel and Dan "the Automator" Nakamura)" via iTunes.
On May 26, Mike Patton performs "Mojo" with Dub Trio, Rob Swift, and Miho Hatori on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.